Australian Chardonnay
Session 8 of the Landmark Australia Tutorial

Michael Hill-Smith presented this session. ‘I judged my first wine show in 1980,’ he said, ‘and I have seen changes in Australian Chardonnay over a long period. I have been involved in production of it since 1990.’

This makes him well placed to comment on how the style of Aussie Chardonnay has evolved.

But it’s a relative newcomer to Australia, with a history stretching back just to the 1970s. Apparently, Murray Tyrrell tasted great white Burgundy and became obsessed by it. He found out that Penfolds had 67 acres of it, and he asked for some in 1967/68 but was refused. So he got some cuttings from these vines by other means.

His first vintage of Chardonnay was unoaked, but by 1973 he was using small oak barrels. His wine was given 6/20 by one of the judges at the Brisbane wine show. But the Tyrrell’s Vat 47 went on to become an Australian icon: big, bold, rich and delicious.

Many of the early Australian Chardonnays were unwooded, picked like Riesling and Semillon. They didn’t make much impact. But once people decided ripeness criteria for Chardonnay were different and started to use oak for ageing and/or barrel fermentation, the classic, stereotypical Aussie Chardonnay was born, and people loved it.

These were rich, golden, oaky wines. A good example would be the Rosemount Roxburgh Chardonnay, which was a classic of its time.

‘Now people look down their noses at these wines,’ says Hill-Smith, ‘and that’s unfair. They weren’t elegant or refined, but they offered a mouthful of flavour, and consumers embraced this. But the style was found wanting at the fine wine end.’

‘We now have a better understanding of site and climate, better planting material and a better understanding of the winemaking process—as well as a clearer goal or philosophy.’

The wines we tasted reflected the progress that has been made with Australian Chardonnay, as well as a variety of styles.


2006 Tyrrell's Wines Vat 47 Chardonnay, Hunter Valley
Very rich, toasty, spicy nose is intense with complex spicy notes. The palate is bold, rich and powerful with nice ripe fruit and lots of oak, but all the flavours mesh well together. Big and rich but works. 93/100

2006 Cullen Wines Kevin John Chardonnay, Margaret River
Intense herby nose with rich, sweet, bold nutty fruit. The palate has a green herbal, slightly unripe edge to it as well as intense, bold, soft-textured, almost lush fruit. Savoury, spicy finish. An intense wine that may evolve well. 90/100

2006 Vasse Felix Heytesbury Chardonnay, Margaret River
There’s a fresh, mineral edge to the bold ripe pineapple and peach nose. The palate is concentrated and rich with lovely depth and boldness. A rich, intense style with creamy vanilla oak integrating well with the rich fruit. 93/100

2006 Leeuwin Estate Art Series Chardonnay, Margaret River
Refined, creamy, toasty nose with bold tropical fruit. The palate is smooth, elegant and lush with power and elegance combined. Soft textured and delicious. 93/100

2006 Shaw + Smith M3 Chardonnay, Adelaide Hills
Restrained, nutty, spicy palate is quite smooth with some rich, oily notes and hints of lemon, grapefruit and vanilla. Mostly fresh and bright with nice acidity. Sophisticated wine that needs more time. 92/100

2006 Tapanappa Tiers Vineyard Chardonnay, Adelaide Hills
Lifted lemony, herby, subtly nutty nose with hints of toast and vanilla. Fresh, tight, textured style with crisp, complex yet restrained fruit. Aiming at elegance with a nice lemony quality. You could dismiss it as simple but it picks up complexity in the glass. 92/100

2006 Giaconda Chardonnay, Beechworth
Amazingly rich, toasty, aromatic and broad with ripe, lush, tropical fruit notes and some savoury oak. The palate is rich-textured and broad with almost fat, smooth peach and pear notes as well as well integrated oak. Finishes warm and spicy. A rich, concentrated, sophisticated wine. 95/100

2006 Bindi Wine Growers Quartz Chardonnay, Macedon Ranges
Intense, creamy, toasty and broad with ripe pear, melon and pineapple fruit, as well as toast and vanilla notes. Intense and vivid with a savoury, spicy, oaky finish. Rich and delicious. 92/100

2006 Stonier Wines KBS Vineyard Chardonnay, Mornington Peninsula
Sophisticated, fine nose with overt toasty oak notes. The palate is powerful and complex with spice, toast and vanilla notes as well as nice citrus and grapefruit freshness. Long, spicy finish. Oaky, but may age well. 92/100

2006 Oakridge 864 Chardonnay, Yarra Valley
Very fresh, fine, lemony, pithy nose. The palate is super fine with elegant, taut, fresh citrussy fruit and some bready, toasty, vanilla notes adding depth. Tight, fresh, yet concentrated and broad. Old world style with real poise. 93/100

2006 TarraWarra Estate MDB Chardonnay, Yarra Valley
Very fine, aromatic nose with floral and lemon oil notes. Rich, fine, lush, open palate with lovely rounded texture and also good restraint. Rich, soft and smooth with wonderful balance and peach and melon richness. 94/100

2006 Freycinet Chardonnay, Tasmania
Crisp and lemony with delicate yet ripe fruit. Pretty and attractive in a fresh fruity style with some subtle toasty notes. 92/100

2006 Hardys Eileen Hardy Chardonnay, Regional Blend
This vintage is from Tasmania, Yarra and Tumbarumba. Rich, complex and bold on the nose with some rich nuttiness and fine lemony freshness. The palate is rich with bold, full, dense peach and pear notes as well as lovely freshness. Lots of complexity. 93/100

2006 Penfolds Yattarna Chardonnay, Regional Blend
This vintage comes from Tasmania, Adelaide Hills and Henty. Fresh, expressive and lemony with the dominant theme being the crisp, focused lemony fruit. The palate has a hint of toasty richness, but it is all about the concentrated yet fresh lemony, grapefruit characters supporting the richer pineapple and peach notes. Very fine. 94/100

Landmark Australia
Visiting the Australian Wine Research Institute
Session 1 - Regional Classics
Session 2 - Riesling 
Session 3 - Shiraz and Blends
Session 4 - Historical Perspective
Session 5 - Semillon, Sauvignon Blanc and Blends
Session 6 - Cabernet Sauvignon and Blends
Session 7 - An Alternative View
Session 8 - Chardonnay
Session 9 - Pinot Noir
Session 10 - Blending the rules
Session 11 - Sparkling
Session 12 - Fortified

Wines tasted 06/09  
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